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Syria's chemical weapons could spell a doom

There is a lot of talk about Syrian government looking to use chemical weapons against its own people, in a last-ditch attempt by Bashar al-Assad to hold on to power, or whether it is just a mere fear tactic by the Syrian government. In either case, Assad will lose ground, be it in the form of an international response or rebel forces slowly gaining over Assad’s forces in Syria.


With the violence in Syria going on since March 2011, almost 40,000 people have been killed in the clashes between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebel forces who want his ouster.

The fighting has now reached Damascus, the capital city, with rebel forces slowly gaining over the Syrian government with the help of Persian Gulf states. Intelligence reports state that Syria is moving chemical weapons precursors, which has aroused fear that it may deploy them against its own people.

Countries have made themselves very clear that Syria’s use of chemical weapons would provoke an immediate international response. Already, US President has clearly stated that this choice of action on Syria’s part would be a ‘tragic mistake’ for which they will be held accountable and would have to face consequences.

A question which arises is whether Syrian threat is real or is it a bluff to dissuade outside powers to support the opposition?

The problem is that intelligence gathering in an ongoing civil war is a little difficult. If one looks back, in the first Gulf War, US was concerned about Saddam Hussain launching a chemical attack, but the threat was never realized.

However, this may be attributed to the fact that Iraq had only a small chemical weapons programme and Saddam Hussain was largely cheated by his own people. But this is not the case with Syria. Syria’s chemical and biological weapons program is well developed since the time of Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, who made huge investments into it.

Another interesting fact is that last summer, the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, Jihad Makidissi, exposed the existence of Syria’s long rumoured chemical weapons, saying that the country would not use them unless there is an external aggression.

There is also the possibility that this announcement was intentional to make the world know that Syria possessed chemical weapons capability and could use it when necessary.

This ‘external aggression’ could include various forms of external interferences  and  in the current case it may amount to the rebels being assisted by countries ranging from the US, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and various European countries like UK and France.

However, Syrian Foreign Ministry has publicly denied that it plans to use chemical weapons on its own people. But this was applicable till the time the conflict was an internal issue involving the Syrian government and the rebel forces. The regime would have survived and the chemical weapons would not have been used.

But, with the rebels having gained the ability to shoot down Syrian warplanes and helicopters with shoulder-fired anti-craft missiles supplied by the Persian Gulf states, the survival of the Syrian regime is threatened. This existential threat could give a pretext to Assad’s forces to use chemical weapons.

Therefore, going by the dictates of logic, if Assad truly fears for his survival, chemical weapons may be used in Syria. This would mean ‘crossing the red line’ for other nations. Intelligence reports from NATO and Turkey have already confirmed increased activity at Syrian chemical weapons sites.

Israel has on a number of occasions asked Jordan for permission to bomb Syrian chemical weapons sites, which Jordan turned down, fearing a response from the Syrian military on its territory. There are also concerns that terrorists, such as Hezbollah and other groups could gain control of Syria’s chemical weapons in the event of collapse of Assad’s regime.

As the situation in Syria is unfolding, the countries are getting prepared to launch attacks on Syria in case of Assad regime uses chemical weapons. NATO has already approved the deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey in response to Syrian threat. Also, Syria’s neighbors have been conducting contingency planning with the US over the past few months.

The trouble is that the consequences of the use of chemical weapons are not restricted to national boundaries – as a result neighboring countries to Syria would have to bear the consequences.

It would do good to launch a strong deterrence posture to dissuade Assad from using chemical weapons, but when the question of existential threat to Assad’s regime comes up, this seems less likely. Whether he uses chemical weapons or not, Assad seems to be losing ground in Syria.